Illustration from “Right Where You Are Sitting Now” for “The Persecution and Assassination of the Parapsychologists as Performed by the Inmates of the American Association for the Advancement of Science under the Direction of the Amazing Randi.”
Week Twenty Two (pg. 361-382 Hilaritas edition, Chapter 15&16, Part III all editions)By Gregory Arnott
Special guest blogger
Chapter 15 should be considered in light of an earlier article by RAW that was seemingly written during the time of the composition of either The Earth Will Shake or The Widow’s Son: “The Persecution and Assassination of the Parapsychologists as Performed by the Inmates of the American Association for the Advancement of Science under the Direction of the Amazing Randi.” (The name of the article is not-coincidentally named after a play that has already been briefly mentioned in our posts The Persecution and Assassination of Jean-Paul Marat as Performed by the Inmates of the Asylum of Charenton Under the Direction of the Marquis de Sade better known as Marat/Sade.)
In the beginning of the essay RAW mentions “This interest was particularly concrete at this time because there was one part of the historical Novel that was giving him trouble. His hero, Sigismundo Celine, had seen a meteorite fall. Celine had dragged the Damned Things, which couldn’t exist according to 18th-century science, to the Academy of Sciences in Paris. Naturally, he was roundly denounced and mocked for his troubles. This was accurate: anyone who reported a meteorite to 18th-century scientists was treated like a Close Encounter of the Third Kind today.” Obviously, there were some changes made during the time in between the original High Times article and the final draft of The Widow’s Son. Instead we see our secondary protagonist Sir John dragging his stone and sanity before the uncompromising panel of scientists from The Royal Scientific Society.
Sir Charles Nagas is obviously a stand in for Carl Sagan. Sagan wasn’t present during the panel on “Science and Pseudoscience” that inspired RAW’s essay but his debate with Emmanuel Velikovsky is mentioned and our Author seems to think Sagan wasn’t fair to the iconoclast author of Worlds in Collision. As in the novel the Author takes time to point out that Nagas had discovered nothing himself but rather was merely well known as he wrote often for the papers and journals, RAW refers to Sagan simply as a “television scientist” in his earlier essay. I can understand RAW’s disdain for scientists who seem to think that proficiency in one of the multitudinous branches of science such as evolutionary biology (Dawkins), astrophysics (Tyson), mechanical engineering (Nye) makes them an (or the) authority on every facet of reality. These science communicators who follow in Sagan’s mold do as much to repel the public away from science as they do to popularize it. I don’t really need some creep who doesn’t know when to shut the fuck up online or a former kids television host telling me whether God exists or not but they sure seem to think I do. These science popularizers’ extraordinarily high regard for themselves led to the markedly evangelical efforts of atheists in the early 21st century by scientists such as Daniel Dennet, Sam Harris, the aforementioned Dawkins, and the late Christopher Hitchens. Like the unruly “Herbert Sharper” in the narrative, whose bigotry against “Papists” and “Moslems” is on full display during Sir John’s tribunal, these atheist-evangelists have at times shown that they are no scientists but rather run-of-the-mill bigots (see Harris and his hellish alliance with right wing thinkers to promote an anti-Muslim philosophy).
Gardner Marvins is obviously a stand-in for Martin Gardner who was known for his love of Lewis Carrol and GK Chesterton, his mathematical puzzles, and his founding role of CSICOP (now CSI). (RAW mentions a novel with a scientist named Bertha Van Ation that is in the works- he must have been talking about the novels in the Schrodinger’s Cat Trilogy which also include a cocaine-addicted writer names Marvin Gardens.) Gardner, like his counterpart, had a lighter touch than other self-appointed skeptic inquisitions, but his works, such as Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science, drip with paternalistic condescension for those who aren’t in lockstep with his understanding of current scientific consensus. (See also Sagan’s Demon Haunted World.)
The most belligerent member of the panel, Herbert Sharper, remains something of a mystery to me; his name is not a simple transposition of a famous scientist. After reading RAW’s article I can only deduce that Sharper is based on The Amazing Randi himself. Years ago I wrote about the so-called skeptic movement in the paranormal community and contended that it was nothing more than a movement of evangelical atheists who believe that current human knowledge is nigh-infallible. Nothing happens that cannot be explained by our human understanding of the universe. In that essay I quoted RAW’s article and can think of no better commentary on Randi and his character: “Finally, the high point of the morning arrived, in the form of The Amazing Randi, as he styles himself. Randi looks like Santa Claus and talks like the late Sen. Joseph R. McCarthy (Rep.-Wis.) Randi is not a Liberal by any definition but a real, old-fashioned, honest-to-Cthulhu Conservative, fire-breathing variety. He wants to hit the heretics on the head with a blunt instrument.
You see, The Amazing Randi is of the school of thought which holds that he and his friends have the only ‘real’ reality-labyrinth on the planet. All proponents of alternative reality-labyrinths are therefore, by definition, a bunch of sneaks, cheats, and liars. This is the best rhetorical stance for a heresy-hunter, since it is rooted deeply in the primate psychology… Hitler pointed this out in Mein Kampf, every demagogue knows it, and Randi, an old showman, plays it to the hilt.
Randi’s presentation consisted of saying five different ways that the heretics are a bunch of dishonest bastards who lie morning, noon and night, and lie in their sleep just to keep in practice. Then, in case there were any dullards in the audience who hadn’t gotten his message, Randi said it again, five more ways. The Journalist [Wilson refers to himself in different ways throughout the piece to show where his mindset was at] hadn’t heard such oratory since Jim Garrison way in his heyday, finding new Kennedy assassins every second newsbreak. It was a smashing performance, and the Sociobiologist was convinced that most of the audience were breathing harder and starting to tense their muscles before it was half over. Primate mode psychology at its most primitive.”
A footnote mentions how Hanfkopf disregards Barney and Betty Hill’s experience in New England as merely being caused by the stress of being an interracial couple in mid-century America. For anyone who has studied ufology this is a common explanation to write off the couple’s odd sojourn. In RAW’s essay a young physicist by the name of Stanton Friedman stands up to argue that some objects in the sky are unidentified and is roundly castigated. Friedman would become one of the leading authorities on the Barney and Betty Hill case on the side of those who aren’t sure what happened to the couple all those decades ago.
This chapter serves the same purpose of the essay: to show how certain humans are of their mastery of time and space despite the fact that we may presume, if there is a future, that our knowledge will grow and past convictions will become droll mistakes. Like the Royal Scientific Society, who are only aware of seventeen elements, it seems those who crusade on behalf of Science put the cart of certainty ahead of the horse of doubt which is, after all, the true driver of inquiry. (It is also humorous that the narrator mentions the full 92 elements that compose the universe as we are currently up to 118.) Given a choice between Randi and his ilk, I’d much rather hang out with the Divine Marquis.
Across the channel Sigismundo is still being bombarded by false circumstances that take place all over the continent and during different times. As he is being held in an English asylum in the nineteenth century Sigismundo again turns the tables on his interrogators before their conversation turns away from a concerned doctor and patient to initiate and interrogator. The symbolism of Masonry and mysticism swirls around as the drugged Sigismundo grapples through these staged circumstances: as he is led away by the Three Ruffians Sigismundo believes he is going to be thrown back in the well but is instead simply put back in his cell. The well refers to one of the initiatory rites of the O.T.O..
From Eric Wagner: “Well, with the Masonic talk in this week’s reading, I figured we might use the whole of Bergman’s Magic Flute. I considered “She Blinded Me with Science”, but I opted for Mozart. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l17SQeytHN8”
(Eric sent this as a follow up to Tom and I and I asked his permission to share it here. My thanks to you.) “I hope all goes well. In 1985 after I graduated from college I went to Europe. I arranged my trip to arrive in Ingolstadt, Bavaria, on July 23. The next day I visited the concentration camp at Dachau which horrified me so much I just wanted to get out of Germany. I had a train ticket to leave for Vienna that night. I wandered the streets of Munich feeling despair about the human condition. I noticed a theater playing Bergman’s Magic Flute which I had heard about but never seen. I figured I had just enough time to see the movie and run to the train station to catch my train. I know some German, so I could barely follow the movie in Swedish with German subtitles, but the film restored my faith in humanity. Bergman’s realization of Mozart’s vision of a masonic society looking out for us seemed just what I needed. Peace.”